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1 EMERGING ALTERNATIVES TO FINANCE ONLINE NEWS MEDIA IN THE ERA OF FREE CONTENT Master Thesis Operations and Innovation Management (Cand.tech.) Media Management specialization Mariann Szaszkó Supervisor: Anders Henten June 2018


3 Study Board of Industry and Global Business Development Fibigerstræde 16 DK Aalborg Phone Title: Emerging Alternatives to Finance Online News Sites in The Era of Free Content Semester: 4 th Semester theme: Master thesis Project period: Spring 2018 ECTS: 30 Supervisor: Anders Henten Project group: 1 Mariann Szaszkó Number printed: Pages: Appendix: 0 pieces 57 pages 45 pages SYNOPSIS: The thesis is concerned with Hungarian online news sites business models utilizing audience revenue-streams for financing their core activity. We consider the Hungarian situation unique: we first assume that the state gives an unnatural protection for progovernment online news sites, while independent and critical media have to find alternative ways to survive, and second, this political climate can trigger an increase in people s willingness to pay for online news. This thesis will explore the general regulatory and economic context of the Hungarian online news market, then describe the different business models, and finally, based on previous research on the willingness to pay for online news and crowdfunding campaigns, will test various factors in order to investigate, who is willing to pay for online news in Hungary. Enclosures: 0 By signing this document, each member of the group confirms participation on equal terms in the process of writing the project. Thus, each member of the group is responsible for the all contents in the project.

4 Table of Contents Introduction 3 Methodology 5 Philosophy 5 Theory development 6 Research design 6 Limitations 8 Literature on the willingness to pay for online news 9 Behavioural economics and consumer decisions 9 Status quo bias and reference price 9 Loss aversion 10 Heuristics in information shortage 11 Implications for crowdfunding 11 Demographics and media use: causal factors? 13 Short history of market and media regulations in Hungary 16 Press freedom and media pluralism today 20 The Hungarian online media 22 State advertisement for the favourites 25 Models for financing online news 27 Hypotheses based on empirical data 32 Discussion 34 Presenting survey results 34 Demographic data 34 Media consumption and behaviour 35 Willingness to pay for online news 37 Analysis 41 1

5 Demographics and willingness to pay 41 Social biases and willingness to pay 44 Media use and willingness to pay 45 Press freedom concern and willingness to pay 47 Conclusion 52 Bibliography 54 Appendix A Kriszta Zala (Átlátszó) 58 Appendix B Zsuzsa Kékesi (hvg.hu) 66 Appendix C Károly Füzessi (Mérce) 81 Appendix D Survey 97 2

6 Introduction The thesis is concerned with Hungarian online news sites business models utilizing audience revenue-streams for financing their core activity. Although online news sites all over the world are trying to find a sustainable business model for incorporating audience generated revenue-streams, the Hungarian situation is still unique. More and more international organizations and researchers give voice to their concerns regarding the country s press freedom under the 2 nd -4 th Orbán government, describing the last eight years developments as the establishment of soft censorship via selective state advertisement spending and pro-government oligarchs acquiring various media products. This research is set on the premise, that this practice gives an unnatural protection for progovernment online news sites, while independent and critical media have to find alternative ways to survive. However, as assuming, that there is also a silver lining, we will investigate, how this political climate can trigger an increase in people s willingness to pay for online news. This thesis will explore the general regulatory and economic context of the Hungarian online news market, then describe the different business models used by news sites from crowdfunding through microdonations to supporting memberships. Finally, based on previous research on the willingness to pay for online news and crowdfunding campaigns, we will test various factors in order to investigate, who is willing to pay for online news in Hungary. The relevance of this study is not only for Hungary. With recent years increasing threats and attacks on journalists and the free press in Europe and the United States as well, media companies can rightly feel, that they need to activate their most important allies, their audience. This thesis aims to give a better understanding on what makes people realize, that they have to open their wallet, if a media a news site is important for them. Important terms: Crowdfunding: An online fundraising method, which is based on many small contributions. Crowdfunding campaigns usually aims at collecting a previously set amount of money for a specific project. It is usually used to fundraise for gadgets or other one-time purchases. Microdonations: As crowdfunding, microdonations are built on the idea of many small contributions, but in contrast, it is usually used for financing a long running product. Creators, for instance musicians, bloggers, and of course journalists tend to use it, but not only them. Paywall: Utilized by many online news sites with different strategies, paywalls are ways to close down articles and other content from the general public, and only make it accessible to 3

7 those, who pay for it. The payment structure they use and the number of articles they let people consume for free depends on the news site. 4

8 Methodology Even before starting to formulate a research, we already have a number of assumptions on what constitutes adequate academic investigation, for instance, what is an acceptable method for collecting and analysing data (Saunders, et al., 2016, pp ). Therefore, in the following section we will acknowledge our research philosophy regarding this thesis, and the consequences it has on the research itself. It is especially important (Saunders, et al., 2016) for a business and management research to do so, as the field historically borrows from a wide mixture of disciplines for its foundation, with very different assumptions and philosophies (Ibid., 126). In the second part of this chapter, the research design will be discussed, and finally, we will address the limitations to our methodology. Philosophy According to Saunders, et al. researchers have to consider three types of assumptions regarding how they see the nature of reality (ontology) and knowledge (epistemology), as well as how they handle their own and the research participants values and beliefs (axiology) (Saunders, et al., 2016, pp ). Ontologically we take a more subjectivist stand, as we believe that the subject of this research - as we are interested in human behaviour and opinions - is socially constructed and essentially hard to measure, as opposed to the subjects of natural sciences. Regarding our assumptions on epistemology, as with most business and management research (Ibid., p. 127), we consider a range of different data and logic from numerical data to narratives as legitimate knowledge. This assumption can be observed thorough our research, from choosing mixed methods for data collection to our analysis. Finally, we acknowledge, that the research is value-bound from both the researcher s and naturally from the research participants side. The thesis assumes that there is a preferred scenario for the Hungarian online news market, when the consumers contribute to the production of media in some way. The belief is that it would provide more of the muchneeded media pluralism in Hungary, and therefore promote a more democratic system. However, after acknowledging this axiological assumption, for the integrity of the research, the researcher will try to minimize any bias and keep the thesis as objective as possible. With the above-mentioned assumptions in mind, our philosophy is closest to critical realism (Ibid., pp ). Critical realism also has a layered view on what is real, combining 5

9 empirical, observable reality with the underlying reality that have caused them (Ibid., p. 139). As we are interested in the underlying and in some cases, historically driven causal mechanisms of our subject, therefore, for instance, we will present the history of the Hungarian online news market, and use behavioural economics theory to understand the reasons behind particular consumer choices. Theory development Considering our use of theory, this thesis has an abductive approach, which instead of generalizing finding either from the general to specific (deduction) or the specific to general (induction) uses a back-and-forth course of reasoning (Saunders, et al., 2016, p. 145). As Saunders, et al. points out, abductive research usually begins with witnessing a surprising fact and based on that it tries to provide a set of possible premises that could explain the observed phenomena (Ibid., p. 144). In our case, the multiple successful and also unsuccessful strategies of online news sites targeting their audience for financing content production has shed light on a new trend. Relevant theories from the field of behavioural economics had been borrowed specifically to understand this case better. Moreover, abduction enables the use of data not only to explore this phenomenon, but also to test the theories (Ibid., p. 145) in a new - in this case, the Hungarian online news market s - context. Research design Research question and objectives How can Hungarian online news sites involve consumers in the financing of content production, and who is willing to pay for it? International English-language online news sites have already experimented with different business models for reader-financed content, after relying on advertisement alone became unsustainable. This phenomenon has recently reached the Hungarian market. Therefore, this thesis tries to understand, why some strategies have been successful, while others have failed. We are also interested in how is the willingness to pay for online news affected by specific factors observed within our context: what does the state of press freedom and media pluralism have to do with people s intention to pay for online news? This is also reflected in the research design. 6

10 Firstly, we will look into international literature on different aspects of paying intention and crowdfunding, both within the context of online news and generally. Then, we will examine the state of press freedom through secondary data and draw a picture of how reader contributions and other reader generated revenues are utilized in the Hungarian online news market. The latter will be examined through primary interview data mainly. Willingness to pay: who has the intention to pay for online news? Hungarian online news sites: what role do reader revenues play in their business models? Who is willing to pay for online news Hungary, in terms of demographics, media use, concern for press freedom, and other factors? Finally, we will draw hypotheses from both of these findings, and test them with primary data gathered from surveying the consumers, both actual and potential readers of selected news sites. The aim is to have a more generalizable finding in the end. Research strategy To better understand a phenomenon within its context, a strategy for case study can be applied (Saunders, et al., 2016, pp ). For this thesis, a sum of multiple online news sites in the Hungarian market are considered as the case. We assume, that the chosen cases will produce similar results, and allow replication, while none of them is particularly extreme or unique from one another (Ibid.). Data collection and analysis For case studies, mixed methods are widely used (Saunders, et al., 2016, pp ). As it is mentioned above, the first phase of our research is taking an exploratory course, which for the data collection means more qualitative data gathering, such as conducting interviews and reviewing the relevant literature. In the second phase, we will aim for gathering quantitative data to test hypotheses based on the previously acquired findings, in order to have more generalizable findings. For that, we will use a questionnaire. 7

11 Sampling Our aim with conducting interviews is understand relevant stakeholders opinions on the market and their options to introduce a revenue stream through readers contributions. Our three interviewees all are involved with working on fundraising or membership program: Kriszta Zala is the head of operations at the investigative journalist site, Átlátszó, the first Hungarian online news site that launched with a business model based on crowdfunding and microdonations back in She is responsible for administrative tasks, project management, and marketing and fundraising. Zsuzsa Kékesi is the head of the Online Division, hence oversees product and content development at hvg.hu, the online sister title of Hungary s leading weekly news magazine, HVG. hvg.hu were chosen for the case study, because as an incumbent on the market, they still implemented a supporting membership program for their readers recently. Károly Füzessi is responsible technical (i.e. web development), operational and administrative tasks, and also for fundraising campaigns at Mérce, a smaller online news site that started up as a blog, then raised money for their own platform via crowdfunding, and still relies on donations. For our online survey, we applied self-selection sampling, which consequently means, that the respondents were presumably already interested in the topic or had a strong opinion about it (Saunders, et al., 2016, pp ). The questionnaire was spread online, e.g. through s and social media. Limitations We consider it our biggest limitation that our survey sample is not representative to the whole Hungarian population, hence the results have a lower generalizability. With our methods for analysis, we also lack some specific statistical methods, that would enable a better generalizability. Moreover, we believe that involving the audience in the exploratory phase, for example through focus groups, we could give an answer on their motivations behind paying for online news. 8

12 Literature on the willingness to pay for online news Behavioural economics and consumer decisions While print media sales are falling since online news can offer a more convenient and not to mention free alternative, online news has also created its own struggle with the for-free business model, as news sites have not yet found the holy grail business model to make online news as profitable as print was before the internet disrupted the market. But why is it so hard to get consumers pay for online news, since they were more than willing to do the same for print newspapers before? With taking human psychology into account, behavioural economics may offer a better toolbox for understand seemingly irrational economic decisions. Status quo bias and reference price Lunn and Lyons collected supporting evidence for nine selected decision-making biases affecting consumers economic decisions on the electronic communication market, existing in all groups of consumers with different strength (Lunn & Lyons, 2010, pp. 4-5). For instance, people tend to be biased towards existing or default options, which can affect the activity in the market (Lunn & Lyons, 2010, pp. 4-5). In our case, this may affect the willingness to pay for online news, as there is a strong status quo of free online news in the market. Moreover, we argue, that status quo bias can be indicated by how people s reference price relates to their willingness to pay for online news. In their study on reference price and paying intention for online news, Fletcher and Rasmus (2017) assumed, that reference price depends on certain demographic factors and news consumption habits. Firstly, they assumed that those who use free public service media online have a reference price of zero, therefore are less willing to pay for online news. On the other hand, those who are already paying for print newspapers are more accustomed to an above zero reference price for news and the same applies to younger audiences, who are more likely to already have paid for some kind of online content. Therefore, these two groups are more willing to pay for online news as well (Fletcher & Rasmus, 2017, p. 1174). In other words, the status quo of free news consumption is less strong in those who are already paying for a similar product, and stronger in those who use free public service media. In their research they found instead, that public service media use correlated with willingness to pay for online news in a positive way (Fletcher & Rasmus, 2017, p. 1182), in other words, the reference price of free media by itself did not explain the unwillingness to pay. Regardless, 9

13 those who purchased print newspapers were more likely to pay for online news too, especially in France, Spain and the United States, and the researchers have also found negative association between age and the willingness to pay (Fletcher & Rasmus, 2017, p. 1183). Therefore, based on the literature, we also hypothesize that: H1: Status quo bias towards free online news is less prevalent for print newspaper consumers. H2: Status quo bias towards free online news is less prevalent for younger audiences. Loss aversion Loss aversion or sunk cost bias captures people s tendency to avoid wasting resources. For instance, when they value something more when it is given up than when it is gained, care more about losses than equivalent gains, or when they consume a product or service that they have already paid for, even though they do not want to (Lunn & Lyons, 2010, pp. 4, 6; Gourville & Soman, 2002),. More importantly, Gourville and Soman use the concept of sunk cost effect to explain why people are actually more likely to repurchase or renew a subscription or membership, when they actually used the product or service: people try to avoid the feeling that they wasted money (Gourville & Soman, 2002, pp. 3-4). They point out, that most magazines struggle with 60% or less renewal rates, and that secondary revenues, such as food and drink sales for theatres are also dependent on whether the product or service is actually consumed after purchase (Ibid.). Similarly, visits are an important determinant of an online news site s worth in negotiations with advertisers, therefore if they not only rely on subscription fees which is very unlikely in this market online news sites actually need their subscribers to actively consume their content as well. They also found, that perceived cost is the driving force of this sunk-cost effect, not the actual cost, therefore if the payment occur at or close to the time of consumption (e.g. monthly instead of annually), it increases the likelihood of consumption (Gourville & Soman, 2002, pp. 5-6). Therefore, we hypothesize the following: H3: Those who regularly visit an online news site are those who are willing to pay for it. Moreover, one of our interviewees, Kékesi, also stressed, that loss aversion can affect people s decision to subscribe to a magazine or online news site. She pointed out, that 10

14 they might have already lost subscribers for the weekly magazine, because people do not have time to read it from cover to cover: We hope, and it seems to be a valid belief, that those who have subscribed [to the weekly magazine to support the HVG brand] but don t want to be subscribers anymore, because they don t want to have this insane amount of newspaper overflowing their mailbox or their bathroom, because they are ecoconscious, and it also frustrates them that they have not read all those articles and magazines, and they cancelled their subscription because of this, even though they love us and feel connected to us. So we hope we can win back these people as supporting members. (Appendix B, ) Heuristics in information shortage It is worth to clarify, that biases are not necessarily irrational or lead to poor economic decisions. As Lunn and Lyons point out, the bandwagon effect, i.e. following others example may be good guideline for unsure consumers, or that status quo bias result in better market decisions, when the market is too complicated for consumers to understand: as evidence shows from the UK electricity market, that those who spent time and effort on switching providers, usually ended up with worse deals (Lunn & Lyons, 2010, p. 8). Heuristics, rule of thumb decisions generally play a bigger part in decision-making, when the situation is too complicated, while ambiguity aversion describes the phenomenon of people avoiding risks that they cannot accurately quantify (Ibid., p. 4). Therefore, we will look into how consumers information on the market and its actors may affect their willingness to pay for online news. Moreover, we attempt to identify whether a direct form of bandwagon effect, namely recommendations from friends and family members has an impact on the decision to pay for online news. H4: People are less likely to pay for online news, if they do not have enough information on the market. H5: People are more likely to pay for online news, when their friend and family recommend it to them. Implications for crowdfunding Lunn and Lyons also looked into time discounting bias, i.e. when people are biased towards rewards in the present rather than rewards in the future (Lunn & Lyons, 2010, pp. 4-5), which 11

15 may have consequences on crowdfunding campaigns and the various models for paid online content. When researching backers funding intentions in crowdfunding campaigns Zhao et al. (2017) identified the key factors of crowdfunders paying intention. They used social exchange theory and regulatory focus theory for theoretical framework on a sample of 204 backers in Taiwan (Zhao, et al., 2017, p. 370). As part of social exchange theory, they highlighted the impact of communication and trust in the decision-making process for backing a crowdfunding campaign (Zhao, et al., 2017, p. 372). Among others, they hypothesized that while backers perceived risk is negatively, their trust and commitment positively correlated with their funding intention, moreover, their perceived risk and commitment are affected by their trust in the campaign or product, which however is positively affected by the communication between backers and campaigners (Zhao, et al., 2017, pp ). Figure 1: Factors behind funding intentions in crowdfunding campaigns (Zhao, et al., 2017, p. 380) Surprisingly, they found that perceived risk had a positive effect on funding intention. Overall, risk, trust, and commitment explained 50% of funding intention variance (Zhao, et al., 2017, p. 377). Moreover, they found that trust in fact affected perceived risk and commitment, while trust was affected by communication and shared value. We argue that these factors play an important role in our context too: 12

16 Perceived innovation, perceived involvement, shared value, perceived benefit, communication, perceived risk, trust, and commitment are crucial indicators for funding intention in crowdfunding of online news sites. Demographics and media use: causal factors? We have already touched on how can age correlate to people s intention to pay for online news. In order to understand who are the right target audience for funding campaigns, subscriptions and membership programs, we will review previous research on what role do demographic factors play in the decision-making process to pay for online news. With a hierarchical regression analysis on a random-sample telephone survey of 853 Hong Kong residents, Chyi (2005) examined how do demographics, income, media use, and format preference (i.e. print or online is preferred) predict the paying intention for online news. Similar to what we have already discussed at the status quo of free online content, Chyi also points out, that horizontal demand curve at price zero and cross-price elasticity of demand plays an important role in online newspapers struggle to successfully monetize their content. (Chyi, 2005, p. 133) She found that age is negatively and (after controlling for gender, age, and education) newspaper use is positively related to paying intent, while format preference (whether they preferred reading news online or in print) and income don t show significant correlation (Chyi, 2005, pp ). In other words, younger audiences who spend more time with reading newspapers are more likely to pay for online news, at least in this research s context. However, with simple correlation analysis, she found that age and income level actually has a negative, and preference for online news has a positive correlation with the willingness to pay for online news (Chyi, 2005, p. 141). In another study, Chyi and Lee (2013) proposed two structural models to identify the causal links between certain demographic indicators, online news consumption and paying intent. They tested their hypotheses with simultaneous maximum likelihood regression analyses on survey data from 2010, with a North American sample of 767 respondents (Chyi & Lee, 2013, pp ). They tested the correlation between six different factors and the willingness to pay for online news (see below). Among others, they hypothesized that younger audiences are more likely to prefer, use, and pay for online news, and that men are more likely to consume and to pay for online news (Chyi & Lee, 2013, pp ). In their first model, they found that while age 13

17 and news interest are key indicators for online news consumption, gender and news format preference (print or online) are not (Chyi & Lee, 2013, p. 203). Figure 2: Factors behind willingness to pay for online news (Chyi & Lee, 2013, p. 204) In their second model they tested print news preference as well. Interestingly, they concluded, that print news use does not predict paying intent for online news (Chyi & Lee, 2013, p. 205), which conflicts with the already presented theory of Fletcher and Rasmus on the higher reference price for newspaper consumers affects their willingness to pay for online news too. This shows that more thorough research is needed on the subject. Goyanes analysed survey data from 570 randomly selected respondents in the US, conducted by Pews Research Center in Beside demographics, he looked into other variables, such as media use and purchase of other digital media (Goyanes, 2014, pp ). Based on Chyi s research (2005), Goyanes built on the assumption that age is the only significant demographic variable for the willingness to pay for online news. He found significant negative association with age and positive association with income level, but not with gender (Goyanes, 2014, p. 750). He also came to the conclusion, that media use, which he measured by Twitter use specifically, also significantly and positively correlates with the likeliness of paying for online news, however, only for moderate Twitter users (who use the platform at least weekly), but not for heavy users (Goyanes, 2014, p. 751). This may show us, that single variables for media use cannot necessarily predict the likeliness of paying for online news. He also found, that it plays a significant role if people have already paid for other digital products, on which we can again draw a parallel with Fletcher and Rasmus s reference price theory. According to Goyanes. those who have paid for ebooks, online movie or TV contents, 14

18 mobile applications and softwares, were more likely to also pay for online news, than those, who never paid for these type of products (Goyanes, 2014, p. 751). Based on the above presented literature, we hypotheses that: H6: Younger adults are more willing to pay for online news. H7: Higher income individuals are more willingness to pay for online news. H8: Gender has no significant relationship with paying intention. H9: The more news people consume, the more willing they are to pay for online news. H10: Moderate social media users have more intention to pay for online news. 15

19 Short history of market and media regulations in Hungary Press in the communist era Before World War II, the Hungarian newspaper market was characterized by high level of media pluralism with hundreds of different political titles published daily and weekly, but most newspapers stopped publishing during the war (Horváth, 2013, p. 12). The formation of the communist state in Hungary meant the abolishment of press regulation through laws until 1986, and the Communist Party pursued censorship via governmental decrees, at first referring to the shortage of paper, then requiring preliminary inspection before publishing (Horváth, 2013, pp. 8-9). Horváth adds, that even the 1986 press law did not aim to guarantee press freedom prescribed by the constitution (Horváth, 2013, p. 10). Between daily newspapers ruled the market with circulation numbers three times of weeklies and ten times of monthlies (circulation of daily titles was ca. 400 million in 1951 and reached ca. 1,000 million by 1988) (Gulyás, 2001, p. 78). Dailies were first and foremost written and published by political parties, usually stating their political affiliation on the front page (Horváth, 2013, p. 15), then in the Rákosi-era, the press that related to political opponents of Mátyás Rákosi and the Communist Party slowly disappeared together with said parties: from 134 titles outside of Budapest only 8 remained on the market, and strong central control had been established (Horváth, 2013, p. 33). In the 1950s, the Communist Party s daily newspaper, Szabad Nép and later Népszabadság had reached thousand copies daily (Horváth, 2013, pp. 36, 73), while the Patriotic Popular Front s Magyar Nemzet had thousand and only reached 170 thousand by 1989 (Horváth, 2013, pp. 51, 75). Newspaper readership competed with radio and tevelision: in 1964, 80% of the population older than 10 years of age consumed newspapers, 88% listened to the radio and only 65% watched television. By 1981, 94% watched television and the same listened to the radio, while 87% read newspapers (Gulyás, 2001, p. 79). Developments after 1989 The first new daily newspapers and magazines entered the market in 1988 (Gálik, 2004), the periodical market was mainly occupied by foreign investors (Polyák & Nagy, 2015, p. 14). Around the end of communism, old publishers disappeared from the market, and it was not 16

20 uncommon for journalists to negotiate on their own with potential investors (Jakab & Gálik, 1999 in: Gálik, 2004). In June 1989, the previous regulation on preliminary inspection of newspapers were completely abolished, but the new media law was only adopted in 1996 (Gálik, 2004). This period was characterized by many political conflicts over media regulation, and therefore is often dubbed as media wars (Gyuricza, 2013, p. 33). Gyuricza in his DLA dissertation, points out, that the absence of a media law, the rapid changes in the market, the simultaneous formation of democratic public and commercial media prevented the Hungarian media to become an adequate space for public discussion, and as such, a cornerstone of democracy (Gyuricza, 2013, p. 33). According to the 1996 media law, the most important decisions required more than simple majority from the Parliament, and with the fragmented political space of the time ( ), this meant that media regulation mostly happened through compromises and bargains between political parties (Gyuricza, 2013, p. 68). In this period, the right-wing associated media closed the gap with the left-wing, in terms of media presence (Ibid.). Circulation of daily newspapers between 1994 and 2016 The circulation of broadsheet newspapers steadily decreased in the last two decades, while tabloids and online newspapers gained bigger audience (Gyuricza, 2013, p. 76). As the figures below show (MATESZ, 2018; Gálik & James, 1999), only the two leading tabloids Blikk and Bors were able to raise their net print volume significantly since 1994, and only Blikk and the then Fidesz-associated Magyar Nemzet (owned by Lajos Simicska) managed to grow the number of their subscribers. In terms of print volume, Blikk overtake the leading broadsheet, Népszabadság in 2001, Bors followed it in 2008, and Nemzeti Sport in 2010, but at that time, it was only the matter of which title s circulation shrunk faster. However, when we look into numbers of subscribers, Népszabadság kept its leading position until 2016, when it was shut down. 17

21 Blikk Bors Magyar Hírlap Magyar Nemzet Nemzeti Sport Népszabadság Népszava Figure 3: Circulation of selected Hungarian daily newspapers (source: Szonda IPSOS in: Gálik & James, 1999, MATESZ, 2018) Blikk Bors Magyar Hírlap Magyar Nemzet Nemzeti Sport Népszabadság Népszava Figure 4: Number of subscribers to selected Hungarian daily newspapers (source: MATESZ, 2018) 18

22 Media law of 2010 At the 2010 parliamentary election, Fidesz-KDNP won the two-third of the seats, and formed a government with Viktor Orbán as Prime Minister. With this majority, they were able to bring through multiple amendments to the Constitution (later called Fundamental Law) and many other laws that are often seen as measures to undermine constitutional democracy in the country. One of the first such laws was the new media law, which received severe criticism from international organisations, such as the UN and the European Council (Polyák & Nagy, 2015, p. 5). Also, this law marks the milestone, when the Hungarian press became partially free according to Freedom House (Freedom House, 2017a, p. 11). Here, we won t go into detailed discussion of the new media law and its consequences, but only highlight the issues around the independence of the media authority (Media Council), and therefore its fit to safeguard the democratic public discussion. Polyák and Nagy point out that the new media law s biggest impact on press freedom is that it extends the supervisory and sanctioning power of the Hungarian media authority, the Media Council over both printed and online press, while its independence is questionable. They argue, that this lead to a form of self-censorship within editorials, even if the Media Council does not make use of the possibilities set by the law (Polyák & Nagy, 2015, pp ), and constitute a serious risk to media pluralism (Ibid., p. 26). Regarding the Media Council s independence, the nomination and election process itself raises questions, as it can be pushed through by a single governing party or coalitions without coordinating with the opposition or civil groups, in case they are occupying two-third of the General Assembly. The president of the Hungarian telecommunications and media market regulator, National Media and Infocommunications Authority (NMHH) is also the president of the Media Council, and as a result of an agreement between the government and the Council of Europe, it is appointed for nine years by the State President 1 instead of the Prime Minister; however, the Prime Minister still holds the right of nomination, without being bounded by outside suggestions (Polyák & Nagy, 2015, pp ). In practice, the four other members of the Media Council are elected by two-third majority of the Members of the Parliament (Ibid., 28). In the following chapter, we look into the current state of press freedom and media pluralism in Hungary in more details. 1 Elected for five years by two-third of the Parliament. 19

23 Press freedom and media pluralism today Firstly, we will present the relevant results of some selected press freedom indexes, as a mean to provide a general and comparable idea of the media situation in Hungary. The two most well-known press freedom indexes use slightly different definitions of press freedom: Reporters Without Borders positions itself as an advocate fighting the abuse against journalists, and Freedom House focuses on a more general state of the political environment around newspapers. Of course, both investigate censorship, economical pressure and how regulations affect the media and its contents. Both rankings paint a similar picture of the developments in the country: while press freedom has a tough time all over Europe, Hungary together with many other East-European and South- European countries, falls behind Western European countries even more. In Freedom House s ranking, within the 195 researched countries, Hungary has fallen back a total of 49 places from 2009 to 2017, 25 places of which happened from 2010 to 2011 (Navratil, 2014; Freedom House, 2017, p. 27), while Reporters Without Borders shows a similar trend, where Hungary come in as 56th in 2013, even though it was in the 23th place in 2010 (Navratil, 2014). The Hungarian Mérték Media Monitor started its own press freedom index in 2012, with gathering data from media managers, journalist, and audiences as well. In a scale of 1 to 10, audiences scored 4.6 for press freedom in Hungary in both 2012 and 2013, journalist gave a score of 4.8 in 2012 and 4.3 in 2013, while media managers gave 5.4 in 2012 and 6.2 in 2013 (Ibid.). Not so surprising, that audiences were divided by their political preference: those of who favoured the governing Fidesz party, only 19% scored less than 5 points, while 55% of those who voted for the then biggest opposition party, MSZP did the same in 2013, and similarly the average score in 2012 was 6 among Fidesz voters and 4.3 among MSZP voters (Ibid.). When Hungarians were asked about what affects press freedom, the two main issues were the transparency of state adverstisement spending and the media authority s composition, i.e. they think press freedom would require that not only political parties nominees sit in the Media Council. State advertisement spending was also named as a main source of exerting political pressure on the media, scoring 54 points, while indirect pressure through editors and managers only got a score of 36 points, and exerting pressure through media regulation had 29 points (Ibid.). Moreover, when they were asked about self-censorship and how was it affected by the new media law, journalists claimed that the media law by itself was not the main factor: the pressure comes from the governing party exersising its power in many previously indepentent institutions, and the non-transparent ownership and loyalty of media firms (Mong, 2014). While 20

24 only 53% of journalists thought that the new media law affected their job, however, 80% of them still believed that the media is overregulated, the media law is too strict (Navratil, 2014). Freedom House s latest press freedom report from 2017 also points out, that Hungary s decline (4 places that year) are mainly due to market activities, that independent media have been squeezed out by government friendly outlets (Freedom House, 2017a, p. 23). Similar tendencies can be observed online. According to Freedom House s freedom of the net report, while the Hungarian internet is still considered free (it has a score of 26, one point away from partially free internet), it declined in the last years due to censoring critical voices that question the authorities, and also government-associated oligarchs purchasing various online news sites (Freedom House, 2017b, p. 13). The practice of ruling political interest groups buying up independent or critical media, or simply cutting them off from state advertisement revenues is a way of soft censorship. It creates and ideal environment for putting political pressure on journalists. In %, in % of media managers experienced political pressure in the prior year, while 51% and 60% of journalists reported the same (Navratil, 2014). Print newspapers are under the biggest pressure, 73% of journalists at those companies reported political pressure, while only 47% of online media journalists experienced the same (Ibid.). When they were asked about media pluralism in 2012 and 2013, 77% and 75% of journalists, 80% and 75% of the audience, and 96% and 97% of media managers said that there are important issues, that are not represented in the media (Ibid.). 57% of editors and 33% of journalists exercised self-censorship and concealed or distort an economic or political fact (Ibid.). 21

25 The Hungarian online media The very first online news site in Hungary, Internetto was established in 1995 by a group of CD-ROM publishers at IDG Hungary (Bodoky, 2005). Internetto experimented with live coverage through digital photos, online streaming and interactive internet television, and curating online communities on their forums, and by 1998 half of Hungary s online advertisement spending went to Internetto (Ibid.). Internetto s content started to be more resembling of a daily newspaper s, which was not the intention of the more IT-oriented IDG Hungary, therefore in 1999 the founder editors of Internetto left the platform and started their own online news site, Index.hu (Ibid.), which is the leading online news site in Hungary to this day. In 1998, the leading ICT provider Matáv (now Magyar Telekom, subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom) started Index s main competitor, Origo.hu, and with the integration of the main Hungarian search engine and major service, together they quickly showed better performance indicators (e.g. unique users and page impressions) than Index: respectively 98,000 versus 37,000 unique users daily between 2-8 March 2000 (Bodoky, 2005). In 2003 the online market took up 2% of the Hungarian advertisement spending (compared to 3.3% in the US), and Origo, Index and the website aggregator page Startlap together earned the two third of it (Bodoky, 2005). From 2003 to 2007, the readership of these three websites more than quintupled, as shown below (Medián, 2007) Origo Startlap Index Figure 5: Unique sessions at market leader websites between (source: Medián, 2007) By 2007, 48% of Hungarians were using the internet regularly (at least weekly), and in the past decade, internet usage changed closely together with the EU average. Today 76% of Hungarians have used the internet regularly in the last 3 months, compared to 95% of Danes and 81% of 22

26 Europeans. In the region, Slovakia and Slovenia have similar numbers, while Croatia and Romania have reached slightly lower rates (Eurostat, 2018). The overall internet penetration is 81% (Newman, et al., 2017). By now, more Hungarian teenagers and young adults (16-29 years old age group) are consuming online news than the European average, moreover, there is no gender gap among them (Eurostat, 2018): Males, 16 to 29 years old, Hungary Females, 16 to 29 years old, Hungary Males, 16 to 29 years old, EU Females, 16 to 29 years old, EU Figure 6: Internet use: reading online news sites/newspapers/news magazines in the years old group by sex (%) (source: Eurostat, 2018) According to Reuters, 89% of the Hungarian population use some sort of online news source. For Hungarians, social media is the main starting point of news consumption, 58% start their news consumption on a social media platform and 68% use it at some point (Newman, et al., 2017, pp. 15, 75). What they use is probably Facebook, as it had already 4.8 million Hungarian users in 2016 (Myat, 2016, p. 65). Interesting to note, that 46% of Hungarian Facebook users only follow the news in their Facebook news feed, and do not click on the link (Myat, 2016, p. 42). Regarding the size of the market, in 2017, 32-37% of advertisement spending, billion HUF 2 was spent on online platforms, which represents 16% growth from 2016 (Magyar Reklámszövetség, 2018; Kreatív, 2018). 2 For reference: 1000 Hungarian forint is ca. 23 Danish krone. 23

27 However, the Hungarian market also struggles with losing advertisement revenues to Facebook and Google was the first year when spending at global companies (in practice, at Facebook and Google) overtook on national spending (Kreatív, 2018). Last year was better for the traditional press; they booked 38.3 billion in advertisement revenues, an 18.5% growth from 2016, the first year that produced growth in at least fifteen years (Magyar Reklámszövetség, 2018). From print sales, they earned 58 billion, while their online titles produced 7.7 billion HUF in 2016 (Heszler, 2017). Among all media platforms, probably online news media is the most diverse and plural market in Hungary. Origo and Index is still the two leading sites, even though Origo s independence became questionable after a pro-governmental acquisition in 2015 (Bognar in: Newman, et al., 2017, p. 75). On Facebook, 18% follow Index and 14% follow hvg.hu (Myat, 2016, p. 43). 42% use Origo, 41% use Index at least weekly. This is followed by 33% for 24.hu, 31% for hvg.hu, 26% for 444.hu, 22% for the state news site Hirado.hu, then 21% for Blikk s online edition, 8% for Átlátszó and the pro-governmental ripost.hu, and 7% for Magyar Nemzet online. Regarding their visits, Origo is the market leader in terms of monthly real users/unique users (see Figure 7) with ca million, closely followed by Index s ca million and 24.hu s ca million (Gemius, 2018) hu 444.hu atlatszo.hu hvg.hu index.hu origo.hu urbanlegends.hu Figure 7: Real users, monthly (source: Gemius, 2018) 24

28 However, when we look at page views, Index leads with ca million page views, Origo follows with a steadily decreasing amount of ca million, then 24.hu is lagging behind with ca million, then hvg.hu and 444.hu come with very similar, ca million page views (Gemius, 2018). 24.hu 444.hu atlatszo.hu hvg.hu index.hu origo.hu urbanlegends.hu Figure 8: Page view, monthly (source: Gemius, 2018) State advertisement for the favourites Mérték Media Monitor used two measures to determine which media organizations are the biggest beneficiaries of state advertisement spending: the amount received from the state, and the share of state advertisement revenue of total advertising revenue, as the latter shows the media organizations that are most dependent on the state (Máriás, et al., 2017). In the latter group, we find many pro-government newspapers both available in print and online: Magyar Idők (76% of their advertising revenue comes from the state), Lokál and Lokál Extra (58% and 72%), Ripost (47%) and Magyar Hírlap (43%) (Ibid., 25). The graph below shows, that Fidesz is not the only party that favorited their own print newspapers through state advertisement, although the proportions tell us that the last MSZP government ( ) did not or could not exercise the same control over the market, the orange-marked Simicska-media still managed to receive state advertisement. This changed with Fidesz-allied media marked with orange in the Simicska-era, and black is for other pro- 25

29 government media, which became more prominent after Lajos Simicska and Prime Miniszter Viktor Orbán parted ways in 2015: Figure 9: State advertisement revenue and share in the political daily newspaper market (source: Kantar Media in: Urbán, et al., 2018) Online news sites were luckier, the media war only recently reached them, and it still has the most pluralism in the Hungarian media. However, it is still worth to compare the state advertisement received by the two leading news sites in 2016: million HUF State advertisement Commercial adversitement Index (CEMP Sales House) Origo (Origo Adhouse) Figure 10: State and commercial revenues at leading online news sites (Máriás, et al., 2017) 26

30 Origo became pro-government in 2015, when it was acquired by New Wave media (marked with black), but already started to get more state advertisment from 2014 on (Urbán, et al., 2018): Figure 11: State advertisement revenue and share between the two largest news sites (source: Kantar Media in: Urbán, et al., 2018) This possibly indicates, that the online media grew up and started to get interesting enough to attract political influence, which would be justifiable by the already cited Reuters repost, according to which 89% of Hungarians get their news online (Newman, et al., 2017). Models for financing online news The struggle to make online news sites viable and profitable is a global phenomenon, but the Hungarian situation is unique: in the above presented political and economic climate, state advertisement revenue protects numerous otherwise nonmarketable pro-government media, while critical or independent news sites has to look for other means. Naturally, the search for sustainable business models would be present without soft censorship affecting the market. In the following section, we attempt to present all the relevant online news sites, that in a way or another try to introduce audience generated revenues. 27

31 444.hu donations and crowdfunding 444.hu was launched by ex-editor in chief of Index in They compete with Index, Origo, 24.hu and hvg.hu, usually coming in as fifth within the online news sites. Last year they have opened up the opportunity for the audience to donate on the site, with the aim to raise 30 million HUF in the first year. With 21 million HUF (Kreatív, 2017), the campaign still can be considered a success, and 444.hu continues to ask for donations between 1,000-10,000 HUF. Recently, they also completed an extremely successful crowdfunding campaign. The crowdfunding platform itself is their own development, funded by Google s Digital News Innovation Fund (Google, 2017), which means that they will presumably conduct similar crowdfundings in the future. For this pilot project, hey offered a tangible product, a guide book to the best places of the Hungarian capital. The campaign aimed to reach 3.5 million HUF from 1,000 backers, with the pricing of 3,490 HUF for a book, but in the end they managed to collect 21,436,410 HUF from 4500 backers (444.hu, 2018). Compared to some of the following cases, may show a handful of indicators for a successful campaign. Firstly, the site and its brand is well established in comparison to Politis or Szabad Pécs, and has a bigger audience than Átlátszó or Mérce. It was founded in 2013, and has a quite big readership according to Gemius (Gemius, 2018). Secondly, a tangible product, like a book offers a very different deal for the consumers. It is also a one-time purchase and not a commitment as a subscription or even the moral commitment of not binding, voluntarily renewed monthly donations. And a book is a product that we are comfortable buying, as it is rarely for free, which can be related to Fletcher and Rasmus (2017) theory on reference price. Átlátszó donations Átlátszó (atlatszo.hu) publishes investigative journalism articles online. They launched in 2011, and from the get go their main revenues come from donations and funds. Consequently, they are the very first Hungarian online news site that utilized crowdfunding. In 2016, thez raised 44.3 million HUF in form of microdonations and 18 million from income tax 1% offers 3 (Átlátszó, 2017). As the head of operations stated, they have a very firm policy of not accepting any funding or advertisement money from neither the state institutions nor other political sources. While they are not against advertisement per se, it seems to be a non-existent revenue-stream for 3 According to Hungarian law, 1% of personal income taxes can be offered to a non-profit organization and another 1% be given to a church or religious organization. Currently just a handful of online news sites are utilizing this as a revenue, e.g. Átlátszó, Mérce and Direkt36. 28